At Inaugural Ball, President Thanks Troops

(Jan. 23, 2012) President Barack Obama opened the first inaugural ball Monday night extending “extraordinary gratitude” to the men and women in uniform and promised to ensure they have everything they need as they defend Americans’ freedoms every day.

Speaking to hundreds of service members, including wounded warriors and Medal of Honor recipients, Gold Star families and veterans gathered at the Commander in Chief’s Ball, and via a televised webcast with troops deployed to Afghanistan, the president said it’s impossible to say “thank you” enough to those who serve.

“Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for keeping us strong. Thank you for always making us proud,” he told the gathering.

“I have no greater honor than being your commander in chief,” he said, drawing enthusiastic applause.

Obama ticked off some of the accomplishments made possible during the past four years, and vowed to ensure the military has what it needs for continued success.

“It’s because of you that with honor we were able to end the war in Iraq. Because of you that we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. Because of you that it’s even possible to give Afghans a chance to determine their own destiny,” he said. “We are going forward, and we’ll keep our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

The president offered special recognition to members of the 3rd Infantry Division and Regional Command South, who are deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He spoke via teleconference with Sgt. 1st Class Orlando Jackson and Sgt. 1st Class David Wood from the 3rd Infantry Division’s Falcon Brigade, Task Force Light Horse; and Master Sgt. Robert Skowronski and Master Sgt. James Godlewski of the 807th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron.

“We know it’s tough being away from your families. We know the incredible sacrifices and challenges that you make every day,” Obama said. “But I can tell you that you’ve got a room full of patriots here.

“And although I’ve got to admit that they’re a little spiffied up right now,” he continued, drawing laughter and applause, “their heart and soul, their dedication, their sense of duty is at one with every single one of the folks who are in Kandahar right now.”

Reflecting on his swearing-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol earlier in the day, Obama said the biggest cheer he received was as he spoke about “the extraordinary men and women in uniform that preserve our freedom and keep our country strong.”

He offered assurance that the nation will continue to stand by them and give them the tools and support they and their families require.

“We’re going to make sure that you’ve got the equipment, the strategy [and] the mission that allows you to succeed and keep our country safe,” he said. “Know that we are going to be looking after and thinking about your families every single day, and that when you get back home, you’re going to be greeted by a grateful nation.”

Four service members were selected for honorary dances during the ball. Staff Sgt. Bria D. Nelson of the 579th Medical Operations Squadron, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., danced with the president.

Gunnery Sgt. Timothy D. Easterling, assigned to Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., as a distance learning instructor, danced with first lady Michelle Obama.

Staff Sgt. Keesha N. Dentino, assigned to the 947th Military Police Detachment, Fort Myer, Va., as a patrol explosives detection dog handler, danced with Vice President Joe Biden.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick R. Figueroa, assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., as a manpower transfer clerk, danced with Jill Biden.

The star-studded lineup of performers at the ball included Dan Moose, Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Chris Cornell, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson and Marc Anthony.